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J Nutr. 2014 Apr;144(4):496-503. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.185876. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

Vitamin A deficiency is associated with gastrointestinal and respiratory morbidity in school-age children.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.


Infection is an important cause of morbidity throughout childhood. Poor micronutrient status is a risk factor for infection-related morbidity in young children, but it is not clear whether these associations persist during school-age years. We examined the relation between blood concentrations of micronutrient status biomarkers and risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory morbidity in a prospective study of 2774 children aged 5-12 y from public schools in Bogotá, Colombia. Retinol, zinc, ferritin, mean corpuscular volume, hemoglobin, erythrocyte folate, and vitamin B-12 concentrations were measured in blood at enrollment into the cohort. Children were followed for 1 academic year for incidence of morbidity, including diarrhea with vomiting, cough with fever, earache or ear discharge with fever, and doctor visits. Compared with adequate vitamin A status (≥30.0 μg/dL), vitamin A deficiency (<10.0 μg/dL) was associated with increased risk of diarrhea with vomiting [unadjusted incidence rate ratio (IRR): 2.17; 95% CI: 0.95, 4.96; P-trend = 0.03] and cough with fever (unadjusted IRR: 2.36; 95% CI: 1.30, 4.31; P-trend = 0.05). After adjustment for several sociodemographic characteristics and hemoglobin concentrations, every 10 μg/dL plasma retinol was associated with 18% fewer days of diarrhea with vomiting (P < 0.001), 10% fewer days of cough with fever (P < 0.001), and 6% fewer doctor visits (P = 0.01). Every 1 g/dL of hemoglobin was related to 17% fewer days with ear infection symptoms (P < 0.001) and 5% fewer doctor visits (P = 0.009) after controlling for sociodemographic factors and retinol concentrations. Zinc, ferritin, mean corpuscular volume, erythrocyte folate, and vitamin B-12 status were not associated with morbidity or doctor visits. Vitamin A and hemoglobin concentrations were inversely related to rates of morbidity in school-age children. Whether vitamin A supplementation reduces the risk or severity of infection in children over 5 y of age needs to be determined.

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